Cubs win thrilling extra-inning comeback over Mariners
Cubs manager Joe Maddon made a risky move that did not pay off by starting Brian Matusz on Sunday night, but the even riskier move of using Jon Lester as a pinch hitter in the most pivotal at-bat of the game, however, did pay off.

Cubs win thrilling extra-inning comeback over Mariners

by - Senior Writer -

CHICAGO -- With recent call-up Brian Matusz on the mound to start the game on Sunday night, the Chicago Cubs (63-41) squared off against the Seattle Mariners (52-51) in the rubber match of the three-game interleague series at Wrigley Field. Matusz, a former pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, was called up to try his hand at starting for a Chicago team looking to possibly expand its rotation. The Mariners, on the other hand, started 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez, making Matusz’s task of pitching on short notice in a primetime game all the more daunting. Despite the Cubs struggling early, the second act of Sunday evening’s affair featured a storybook comeback on behalf of the North Siders, capped off by a shocking managerial move from Cubs skipper Joe Maddon. Trailing 6-0 early on, the Cubs stormed back to defeat the Mariners 7-6 in 12 innings.

Unsurprisingly, Matusz struggled right out of the gate, throwing a wild pitch in the top of the first and giving up a two-run home run to Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz soon after. Cruz’s 26th home run of the season, the moonshot brought in two of the six runs that Matusz allowed in his three innings on the bump. Clearly in over his head in Sunday night’s game, Matusz gave up three home runs and did not last very long on the rubber.

Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano followed up Cruz’s two-run homer with one of his own in the ensuing inning. The round-tripper to right was the former Home Run Derby champion’s 23rd long ball of the year. To cap off Matusz’s nightmarish evening, Mariners first baseman Dae-Ho Lee blasted a two-run shot of his own in the third inning, pushing Seattle’s lead to a commanding 6-0.

The torrid early-inning scoring barrage put on by the Mariners made for a relaxing start for King Felix. Pitching only five innings before being understandably pulled with his team up 6-2, Hernandez was magnificent through the first four innings, only giving up one hit. However, he struggled with his command in the fifth inning and walked three batters and hit another. In fact, the third walk and the hit by pitch occurred with the bases loaded and provided the Cubs with their first two runs of the game. But Hernandez was definitely good enough to help the Mariners defeat the Cubs on a night in which runs were certainly not hard to come by for the American League West squad. Unfortunately for the M's, King Felix was, evidently, taken out of the game too early. Striking out eight, King Felix laid siege to the Chicago batters on Sunday but merely earned a no-decision for his efforts.

Maddon made a fascinating managerial decision in the top of the seventh when he used a double-switch that sent reliever Travis Wood to left field for an at-bat before he retook the mound. As fate would have it, the batter, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, hit a line drive toward the wall in left. But Wood was unfazed and made a spectacular catch while pinned against the ivy, thus proving his defensive ability.

Mariners closer Steve Cishek entered the game in the bottom of the ninth with a three-run advantage working in his favor. After striking out the first batter whom he faced, Cishek was victimized by Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who smacked a double to deep right-center. Then, left fielder Ben Zobrist followed that up with a single to put runners on the corners. Zobrist was an impressive 3-4 with one run scored and two RBI in the game. Shortstop Addison Russell was next up at the plate, and he drove in Rizzo with a slap shot single to center, which also resulted in Zobrist taking third. With Russell advancing to second on the throw to the infield and the Cubs down 6-4 with runners on second and third and one out, the pressure was definitely on Cishek.

Cishek revealed as much by hitting Cubs right fielder Jayson Heyward with a pitch to load the bases thereafter. After that, Zobrist crossed home plate on a fielder’s choice groundout by catcher Willson Contreras that caused Heyward to be thrown out at second. Losing 6-5 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs were down to their last out, but a critical mistake by Cishek gave the Cubs new life. A horrific wild pitch that was quite a bit outside enabled Russell to come home. Although Cishek got the next batter to fly out to end the inning, the damage had already been done, and the save opportunity had been blown.

The 10th and 11th innings offered little excitement in the hitting department. Cubs reliever Hector Rondon was excellent, going six up, six down in his two innings on the hill. The true excitement, though, came to fruition in the bottom of the 12th. Heyward came through with a clutch double off the top of the wall in right-center to lead off the bottom half of the inning, narrowly missing hitting a walk-off home run. Heyward’s only hit of the night, the double proved to be the winning hit for the North Siders. Heyward tagged up and motored to third following a flyout in the ensuing at-bat, barely sliding in untagged.

Then, in the most surprising move of the game, the enigmatic Maddon chose to pinch-hit starting pitcher Jon Lester with the winning run in scoring position. Lester, who may very well be the worst hitter in the National League, swung at a few pitches, but, with two strikes, he laid down a gutsy bunt in front of home plate. The speedy Heyward turned on the jets and slid safely into home, completing the Cubs’ epic 7-6 comeback victory. Arguably the most impressive late-inning performance from the Cubs thus far this season, the incredible victory shattered a 61-game streak in which the Cubs lost after trailing by six or more runs at any point in the game.

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